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Can Recording Yourself Help You Improve Your English?

An experiment I did with 4 adult language learners

You might have heard language teachers say, “Recording yourself speaking can help you improve your English”

But can recording yourself really help you?

I wanted to test this so, as part of my MA Programme in Language Education, I did an experiment using audio recordings with four of my students.

I asked one learner from France, one from Taiwan, and two from Italy to record themselves giving a short talk. They then listened to their talk, reflected on it, repeated it, and finally recorded themselves again giving the same talk.

I’ll explain in detail what the students did, so you can try this activity too and see if it can help you improve your English.

I’ll also show you the results of the experiment.

The “recording yourself” experiment

The experiment included 6 steps and required the students to work on their own.

Step 1: I emailed each student a list of topics such as:

  • My biggest dream
  • My job and what I like about it
  • My best friend
  • What I like about my country
  • A time I felt really embarrassed

Step 2: They chose one of the topics and prepared to give a 3-minute talk about it. They noted down 6 main ideas and 10 keywords — not sentences — that they wanted to use in it.

Step 3: They recorded themselves giving the talk. They could look at the 6 ideas and 10 words they wrote down before. 

Step 4: They listened to the recording while answering the following reflection questions:

  1. In your talk, did you include any words you’ve recently learned? 
  2. Did you use any complex grammatical structures correctly?
  3. Were there any parts where you sounded natural and fluent? 
  4. Were there any ideas or concepts that you were unsure how to express? 
  5. Were there certain words that you didn’t pronounce correctly?
  6. Were there any mistakes? If so, can you identify them and correct them?
  7. Were there parts in the recording where you repeated the use of the same vocabulary or where you felt you needed a more specific word?
  8. Do you feel that the recording flows? 
  9. Were you able to tell the full story in 3 minutes? 
  10. Were there parts where you paused or left long gaps?

Step 5: They repeated steps 3 and 4 as many times as they wanted but without recording themselves. They repeated these two steps until they felt confident in giving the talk again.

Step 6: When they felt they could give the best version of the talk,  they recorded themselves again.

Did the activity help the four students to improve their English?

Here’s what I discovered. 

The results of the “recording yourself” experiment

A woman in an audio recording studio
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

At the end of the activity, the students sent me their recordings for feedback and then completed a questionnaire saying if and how the activity had helped them improve their English.

They answered several questions but I’m only reporting the most significant.

Here’s what they answered (I didn’t edit their answers, so don’t worry if you see some grammar mistakes).

“What improvements did you notice in the second recording of your talk?”

Student 1: “During the practice, I am getting more familiar with the storyline, and also the words that I want to use, so the pauses decrease, and I can spare my attention to be aware of other elements of speaking a story, such as my speaking tone.”

Student 2: “More fluent, less interruptions, better pronunciation, more confident.”

Student 3: “More clear and structured story, more fluent and natural speaking (less time to explain the same content), more accurate.”

Student 4: “I focused more on my pronunciation (“leave” like “live”). I also didn’t say the expression “making a good income”- not sure it was correct the first time. I also tried to explain each idea more clearly. The first time was more a stream of thoughts, not so organised. Because we’re improvising and not reading, it’s never perfect. I still made mistakes the second time (‘in pararell’ probably wrong, there were a lot of drug trafficking instead of there was), and I hesitated on some words.”

“How much more fluent did you feel the second time you recorded your talk?”

Student 1: “A lot more fluent”

Student 2: “A little more fluent”

Student 3: “A little more fluent”

Student 4:  “A little more fluent”

Another question was: “Is there anything you didn’t like about this activity?”

Student 1: “The only thing I need to overcome during this activity is to be disciplined. Because this kind of learning method acquires proactivity and discipline.”

Student 2: “Nope”

Student 3: “I didn’t want to repeat the story several times. Felt lazy about it as it’s repetitive.”

Student 4:  (he didn’t reply to this question)

“Is there anything else you would like to say about this activity?”

Student 1: “When I did my first recording, I felt bad, I felt embarrassed to listen to it till the next day, and after practicing, when I listen to my recordings, I can notice the difference, it was not perfect yet, but not as bad as I thought.”

Student 2: “It was useful to think about my recording and check some words on Longman Dictionary”

Student 3: “I find useful to listen the first recording segment by segment in order to fix structure, grammar and vocabulary”

Student 4: “I like to listen to myself to improve my accent, even though it’s challenging or not pleasant for my ear :D. I was able to notice what was wrong or could be improved. I could tell I’m not very clear sometimes (also in French!). I speak too fast at times.”

I then interviewed each student on Zoom.

Image of Zoom app logo
Photo by Iyus sugiharto on Unsplash

One student told me the activity was useful but boring. She said she prefers talking to real people to improve her English rather than by herself.

Another student pointed out that listening to her recordings could help her improve her accuracy and pronunciation rather than fluency and confidence. 

A third student said listening to his own voice made him feel uncomfortable, but he found this type of exercise incredibly useful to improve his fluency. He said he was going to do it in his free time.

Finally, one of them said that what had helped him increase fluency and confidence was not the use of recordings itself, but the whole process of repeating, checking and reflecting on how well he had told his story.

He also told me that recording himself was helpful to become aware of his language mistakes and gaps.

Image of a smatphone and earphones
Photo by Jessica Lewis Creative on Pexels

I listened to the students’ recordings and discovered that 3 of them made noticeable fluency improvements.

One of them sounded a lot more confident in the second recording and they all used more correct and complex grammar and vocabulary

Conclusion

This small experiment shows that recording yourself and repeating a talk a few times can help you become more fluent, confident, and accurate.

Listening to your voice might make you feel uncomfortable, but this is only a small disadvantage compared to what you can gain from this activity.

All 4 students found it helpful.

However, it might be boring to talk to yourself, especially if you like to learn English by having conversations in the real world.

It might not be the best practice activity for you.

Improving your English through recordings requires you to be highly motivated and independent too.

If you don’t think recording yourself is for you, check out this other self-study activity I talked about in another article.

***

I hope you found this useful. Please feel free to ask me any questions. I love to talk about these things.

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